Roof rack. On or off during winter months?

My Thule rack was installed last spring. Never had a roof rack on any of my vehicles until this year and unsure whether to have it removed for the winter, then reinstalled next spring.

Can’t imagine snow, ice and road salt is good for the components.


The roof rack is made to put up with the conditions, so no need t remove it for that. And you can also use it to carry skis and other winter toys.

But if you won;t be using it, then you could remove it. A roof clear of racks likely would improve the fuel economy of your car. At highway speeds, I could get 28 mpg with my old Outback without a rack. With rack, was more like 23-24. So I took the rack off whenever I wasn’t using for long periods.

I usually leave the Thule towers and cross bars on, but I take the Hullavators off - it takes me all of 5 minutes to remove them.

I take the opportunity to clean them up and lubricate all the pivot points.

Actually, maybe this winter I’ll take the towers and bars off too. It’s really pretty easy to do so.

The first time I installed my yakima rack it took over an hour. But that included the learning curve and figuring out the setup. After a few times I got faster. Now it is only minutes. I remove mine anytime I know I won’t need it for a few weeks.

Thanks guys. My rack was installed by the place that supplied it. The Hullavators came from The River Connection.

Other than seeing lots of parts when they were unpacking it, I didn’t watch when the rack was being installed so I don’t know how big of a deal it is to take it off. I do recall the guy telling me that if it came off, to use a permanent marker on the inside of the door jambs to mark where the towers go. I guess that saves remeasuring when it comes time to put it back on. The Hullavators sit on top of my clothes dryer until they’re needed.

Parts won’t rust over the long winter if it’s left on?

I’ve probably had mine on for 2-1/2 years straight now. I paddle quite a few times in the winter and like to be ready to go quickly. Its cold and daylight is at a premium. Aside from a little fading of the fabric covers for the foam pads they’re pretty much good as new. I have Thule fold down J-cradles on square bars.

Racks are permanent fixtures all year here in Utah. Skis & snowboards in the winter, boats & bikes the rest of the time. I take the pads off the cross bars whenever I’m not carrying boats of more than a week.

Take mine off for winter but only so I can go through automatic car washes to remove salt from the car…too darn cold to wash it myself

If you are going to use it leave it on.
If you aren’t take it off… Its a PITA to clear a foot of snow off the roof with a rack on it… especially a high vehicle. Once we forgot the rack was under all that snow( we hadn’t cleared it), drove into the garage and the door jamb wiped off the roof rack.

@stevet said:
Take mine off for winter but only so I can go through automatic car washes to remove salt from the car…too darn cold to wash it myself.
Are we talking the boat rack, or the base rack & crossbars? I leave my base rack (Yakima towers & aero crossbars) on my SUV all the time. No issues going through car washes. I do take the cross bar pads off first though. With the aero bars, the wind resistance is minimal and not worth the hassle of taking the whole system off.

Most carwashes around here say they are not responsible for aftermarket accessories. So just to be cautious I take off towers and crossbars once the water is hard. Five minute job.

If you won’t be using it; take it off.

I don’t see the point in leaving an expensive rack set up on your vehicle, and unnecessarily exposing it to several months of winter weather, vandals, thieves, etc.

Surely it’s not that big of a hassle to remove…

BOB said:

Surely it’s not that big of a hassle to remove…

I looked at the Thule manual tonight. Drawings, with lots of arrows going in various directions. And a separate section on the Fit kit. No text. I like words.

With luck I’ll have a few more weekends before I need to make a decision.

When mine come off, it is a great opportunity to clean, inspect and lube the moving parts. Plus fuel economy can improve. There are occasions when I miss having cross bars to haul the occasional piece of lumber or whatever. I do have witness marks on the bars to re-locate placement of saddles for my and wife’s boats.

I too use the opportunity to clean, inspect and lubricate.

I leave as much in place as possible and just basically remove the towers with the bars attached and the Hullavator bar mount assemblies still bolted to the bars.

And the nice thing about the Thule stuff is that the only tool you need is a 5mm Allen key.

When you write about cleaning and lubing, which parts? There are no moving parts on my towers or AeroBlades; I do wash off the dead bug splatter on the cradles and bars. There is weatherstripping in the aeroblades. Wondering if I should remove it, clean out any gunk, then reinstall and maybe swipe with 303. As noted, the Hullavators are never on the car unless carrying my kayak. Unsure what should be lubricated there.

The roof rack doesn’t seem to affect mileage. Have been getting around 41 mpg this summer. Drops to 38 when my boat’s loaded.

Well you’re right, the bars and towers have no moving parts but a good wipe down and some 303 doesn’t hurt. As for the Hullavator cradles I clean them 303 them and then put a little oil on all the pivot points. I also put a dab of grease on the pivot pins that hold the arm assemblies on to the bar mounts and on the captive locking pins. Finally I put a little oil on each of the ratchet mechanisms in the bow and stern tie downs.

Interesting, these months are the height of our season for distance paddling and bug free camping. I keep the racks on all years. When going to snow country…once a year maybe…, I take the cradles off.

I guess not everyone is interested in paddling in cold weather, or camping whether bug free or not! :o


I like paddling in cold weather. Last time I launched on Lake Michigan (Nov. 6) , it was so different. All the sailboats and docks were gone. No clutter. Didn’t have to paddle across the harbor being wary of other vessels. While the water is always clear, it’s cold temperature seemed to add even more clarity and for a while as I paddled, I could see my shadow on the lake bed even though I wasn’t that close to shore. That also made me realize how very much alone I was. Situational awareness.

Gale warnings have keep me away since then but the weekend wind forecast looks promising so I hope to get back, perhaps for the last time this season as the water temp is 44F. As winter sets in I’ll move to the inland lakes until the ice forces me to move my kayak to the pool. That’s when I’ll figure out what to do about my roof rack.